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North Fort Myers kids enter the octagon at Suncoast Community Center

January 4, 2013
By Chuck Ballaro ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

It was unmistakable - the eight-sided cage off to the side of the parking lot at the Suncoast Community Center in North Fort Myers on a recent cloudy Saturday.

Workers put mats down on the ground in anticipation of it being used during the day by professional fighters.

It was "The Octogon."

Article Photos


Tiffany Etherington, 14, punches into hand pads held by Cynthia Chaney, 13, at the Suncoast MMA Charity Festival at Suncoast Community Center last Saturday.

The ominous sight was for a good cause. It was the first Suncoast Mixed Martial Arts charity event, where as many as 100 kids turned up to learn the art of self-defense while a couple local bands performed on the makeshift stage.

The main point of the event was to teach kids to defend themselves, have a better opinion of themselves and learn self-discipline.

"Mixed-martial arts is a helpful self-defense technique that helps you learn to fight so you don't have to," said event organizer Jason King. "It gives you self respect and allows you to make the right decisions and take the right path."

The idea was to get funds for the kids so they can participate in tournaments with the help of live sparring, music and even balloon animals.

As the skies threatened outside, the real action took place inside, where the kids practiced their techniques under the watchful eye of instructor Jon Abbott.

On the floor, Maddie Acuff and Hope Lepley practiced what to do if pinned by an assailant.

"We're learning how to get up if someone is holding you down," Lepley said. "We only started this Thursday, so we're going to learn to do flips and actual fighting."

Another group of girls practiced their punches while a group of boys practiced their leg kicks into pads held by a partner.

Back outside, Hope's older brother C.J. Lepley was in the cage, setting up the floor for the fighters who would come later.

"I started working out with Jason, and started practicing Thursday and learned some moves," Lepley, 15, said. "I've learned physical fitness and want to fight teenage obesity."

There to lend a hand was professional MMA fighter Shaun Ciferri, who helped man the booth for American Top Team, a place in Cape Coral that teaches MMA fighting.

For Ciferri, learning MMA is a winning proposition for the kids, some of whom are more at risk to make the wrong choices.

"It's about helping the kids learn Ju-Jitsu. Give them something to do to stay in shape and stay out of trouble," Ciferri said. "It's easy to get into the wrong things. This gives them an outlet to do something positive."



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